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The new trend towards recycling school supplies


As is the case in September every year, school children of all ages are getting ready to go back to school, their backpacks full of brand new school supplies. More often than not, last year’s equipment has ended up in the bin. Although some exercise books may have managed to escape destruction by being put aside for recycling, the same cannot be said for pens, pencils and felt-tip pens. To address this, recent initiatives have been targeted at schools with the aim of setting up collection and recovery channels to transform this waste into new resources.


Credit : iStock / utah778

CThe first school equipment recycling programme was implemented in the United States by Terracycle, a start-up which, having launched a fertiliser produced from earthworm droppings in 2001, devised an original new model for the waste management market. Its ethos is to create product-specific recycling channels (called Brigades) sponsored by major consumer brands. Collections are made by retail outlets, or by volunteers in schools, universities or companies, depending on the Brigade. In the latter case, the volunteers install and manage collection containers and, once these are full, they are picked up by transport sent by Terracycle. In exchange, the teams win points that they can convert into charitable gifts or donations to the non-profit organisation or school of their choice. Based upon this principle, Terracycle launched its “Writing Instruments Brigade” in the United States with Papermate in 2010, then in France in 2011 in partnership with Bic, the world’s largest ballpoint pen manufacturer.
This programme makes it possible to collect used plastic writing instruments, such as pens, felt-tip pens, markers, correction instruments and other highlighters of all brands. Terracycle then takes responsibility for recycling them. The waste is shredded to separate the plastic, which is then crushed before being transformed into pellets. These pellets can, in turn, be extruded into thin sheets to make cases, bags or wallets, or injection-moulded to produce plastic flower pots, paving, benches… or recycling bins. To date, Terracycle has 2,626 writing instrument recovery teams in France, who have collected nearly 5.3 million individual instruments, resulting in payment of some €100,000 in donations. .

Another initiative is that of Crayola, manufacturer of crayons and painting products for children. In 2013, the company launched “Crayola ColorCycle” in the United States and Canada, a programme directed at schools and colleges. While aiming to raise pupils’ awareness of environmental issues and recycling by providing various educational materials for their teachers to use, the programme also enables them to take action. Participating schools also collect used felt-tip pens and markers from Crayola or other brands, package them up and send them to the company, which then recycles them into diesel fuel.

These two examples demonstrate the benefits offered by school supplies. Unlike other waste, they can be collected in an infinite number of clearly identified locations: educational establishments. In the United States again, distributor Office Depot builds upon this characteristic to recycle used printer cartridges from schools and colleges, which they exchange for vouchers. The same goes for many humanitarian organisations and community groups which organise collections of equipment that is still in good condition. Only this time, there is no intention of recycling them, but of reusing them for the benefit of vulnerable people or children in developing countries.